Saturday, February 15, 2020

Friday, February 14, 2020

My Felonious Valentine: Álvaro Rodríguez on Jeopardy

Don't let go while I'm hanging on
’Cause I've been hanging on so long
It's so hard to be all alone  
I know you’re not that strong
- “Jeopardy,” Greg Kihn Band, 1983

Surely Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker and director John Sturges made better films than 1953’s just-over-an-hour-running-time programmer Jeopardy, released thirty years before the Greg Kihn Band’s earworm burrowed its way through MTV and FM radio all the way to the #2 spot on Billboard’s Top 10. But (and bear with me here) both the 1953 film and the 1983 music video shared a theme of a couple in trouble, split apart by demons and circumstances beyond their control, an explicit test of their matrimonial bond.

Okay, I admit. It’s a stretch.  Let’s get back to the movie.

Jeopardy begins with wife and supermom Barbara Stanwyck riding shotgun as hubby Barry Sullivan aims the hood ornament of the family sedan southward to Old Me-Hee-Co while son Bobby (The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin’s Lee Aker) plows through a box of crackers and cracks wise between them. Babs has the picnic all ready to go once the family reaches their isolated fishing beach destination at the tail end of Baja California, checkered tablecloth and coffee camp pots. Barry is the poster boy of 1950s Dad vibes, short of the imaginary pipe dangling from his lips. But what isn’t imaginary is the pistol he’s got in the back seat, so he and Bobby can shoot at beer cans when they hit the beach. Mom wisely puts said pig iron in the glove box where it’ll be safe until the third act.

Bienvenidos,” Daddy-O reads the roadside sign and explains as they enter Tijuana. “That means ‘welcome.’”

The car overheats. Stanwyck admits she forgot to fill the water can at the last stop. They roll into a middle-of-nowhere garage, last chance for gas for so many miles, but the place is deserted. They cool down the engine and head on.

They reach the magical inlet of Barry’s younger days when he and his old fishing-and-drinking buddy went down South and boy, you shoulda seen the size of the monsters they dragged from the Sea of Cortez, there’s a snapshot in an album he’ll be happy to show you when they get back home… But now, all these years later, Barry’s old buddy gone heavy and succumbing to male pattern baldness, the pier has also fallen into disrepair, all jagged planks and precarious stretches of rotting, nail-spotted beams like an invitation to tetanus.

Undeterred, they set up camp and isn’t this swell. You, me and little Bobby… who has wandered off… but let’s make out for a minute… he’ll be fine… where is that little sonofabitch, anyway? Bobby! Son!

Short story long, Bobby’s been imagining life as a cabin boy at the far end of Ramshackle Row, and when Pops goes out to help him, the boards break and Pops ends up on the ground under the pylons, stuck between a rock and a hard place. It won’t budge, and the tide’s coming in, and Bobby stays behind with Barry while Babs gets back in the car to look for help.

She returns to the deserted pit stop, only this time, she finds escaped convict Ralph Meeker, looking the worse for wear and pleads with him to come help her husband get free from his soon-to-be watery undoing. But Meeker’s got other ideas, get me, like absconding in a clean getaway car, and make sure you don’t get any ideas, lady.

Behave now or this is gonna blow a real pretty piece of you over the side,” Meeker says.

There is real sexual energy here. Dangerous. The kind we haven’t really seen between Babs and Barry. But with Meeker, it’s different. Instant. There’s a feral sexuality, an animal attraction mixed with abject disgust. Like we like it. Hello, film noir, how’ve you been, glad you showed up.

The rest of the film - all of the film, frankly - plays like a radio drama stretched for time. A simple conceit - how far will a woman go to save her husband; a ticking clock - the water’s four feet high and rising back with husband and son. And there’s a couple of cars of Mexican federales patrolling the dirt highways looking for escaped gringo killers.

There’s a dance of misdirects: Will she pull the pistol from its hiding place and get Meeker’s help at gunpoint? Will she club him with a tire iron when their wheel goes flat?

“When was the last time you…”

She lets the word hang in the charged space between them.

“…talked… with a woman.”

He dodges her question like a bullet.

She asks it again.

The tension is high. Our love’s in jeopardy. I won’t squander the film’s few and simple pleasures with any more spoilers, but if you’re so inclined, check out Jeopardy, the kind of a picture that has stars too big to be the bottom half of a double feature, a novella that teases a catalyst and doesn’t really care about the consequences.

Álvaro Rodríguez is the co-creator/executive producer of Netflix’s Seis Manos, a “Mexicanime” adult animated series set south of the border in the 1970s. He’s currently writer and co-producer of an upcoming Showtime drama series, Rust, with Jeff Daniels.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

My Felonious Valentine: Brighton Rock

I love Graham Greene's writing for many reasons; its elegance, wit, human insight, compassion and brutality, but it is always his Catholic obsessions working themselves out through crime and espionage stories speak loudest to me. The films made from his books and scripts run the gamut of quality, but the best of them synthesize the spiritual conundrum at the heart of his characters' dilemmas into hard candy you can pop into your mouth easily and enjoy sucking on it for a long time afterward. Greene's novel and John Boulting's adaptation Brighton Rock are in fact named after just such a regional confectionery.

It's a crime thriller about a gang war and the intersection of good and evil in the story is a one-sided romance between Hermione Baddeley's sweet and naive waitress Ida who's witnessed something she doesn't realize the gravity of, and Richard Attenborough's psychotic young sadistic killer Pinkie who needs to know what she knows.

............SPOILERS FOLLOW..............SERIOUSLY............

In a particularly cruel plan to find out what she knows and what the cops might be able to get out of Ida, Pinkie courts and marries her having correctly surmised her station in life (naive and innocent which he thinks means dopey, doomed sucker) and all the ways she can be taken advantage of and swept off her feet.

The narrative threads at play include an increasingly bloody gang war that Pinkie wages, a murder investigation targeting Pinkie with Ida as the unwitting witness, Ida's unlikely love story which the audience knows holds only pain for her in the end and Pinkie's toying with her, savoring the cruelty of it all as he plans his betrayal and her death.

Pinkie is tough, very intelligent and Catholic enough to believe in damnation and hell, but rather than turning him to repentance it amplifies his psychosis as he sees himself as beyond the grace of God and happy enough to be there for the moment. Ida is sweet and sheltered and naive, but she's not dumb. Her faith is sincere, but untested.

After they are married Ida sees a novelty attraction on the boardwalk where you can record messages and give them to friends. Ida asks Pinkie to make one for her and he complies. Inside the glass booth with Ida watching him speak, but unable to hear what he says, Pinkie records his message for Ida and because she asked him to, he speaks from his heart...

You asked me to make a record of my voice. Well here it is. What you want me to say is 'I love you.' Here's the truth: I hate you, you little slut. You make me sick. 

It's devastating.

We watch him relishing the pain it's going to cause her when she hears it, and we watch him watching her watch him speaking special private and true words only for her from the heart of her husband whom she loves. It hurts us.

Later when Pinkie's plans to kill Ida have been thwarted and he has been killed, Ida still can't quite understand the truth about him. She cries confessing to a nun that she knows he's damned and she doesn't want to repent of her sins hoping that she can one day be with him again in hell. She still believes the rules of her faith, but she no longer finds any comfort in them.

The nun tries to comfort her, "You can't understand, nor I, nor anyone for that matter, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God... You say he loved you. There's hope."

Ida reaches for the recording her husband gave her as proof of his love and we can hardly bear to watch as she listens to his special message to his wife from beyond the grave, the only comfort she may know for the rest of her life. But the record has been damaged and only part of the message is preserved and Ida hears her husband's confession -

"What you want me to say is 'I love you.' skip I love you skip I love you skip I love you skip I love you."

Does the audience believe the way she does about heaven and hell, sin and redemption? They don't have to, they believe that she does. They know that her husband didn't love her and in fact despised her and found her innocence contemptible. On one hand we want her to know the truth about him and on the other we're glad she's been spared his cruelty.

Some among the audience may foster some contempt for her and see the stubbornness of her faith dooming her to a life of not-knowing-things, but others will see the strength of her convictions being rewarded by the 'appalling strangeness of the mercy of God'.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

My Felonious Valentine: Miami Blues

Charles Willeford's 1984 novel Miami Blues introduced Hoke Moseley, a literally toothless police detective, who would become the anchor of Willeford's only series. The series brought some of Willeford's biggest sales and might be what he is now most widely known for, but turning Moseley into a series character doesn't appear to have been the author's instinct (Grimhaven, the first sequel he wrote, left no room for further Hoke books and was so appallingly dark it was never published - the series stands at four officially with New Hope For the Dead, Sideswipe and The Way We Die Now following Miami Blues).

I'm glad Hoke got a series, they're fun and weird and worthwhile, but Miami Blues really belongs to Hoke's antagonist, Fred Frenger Jr. a con man with frighteningly violent capabilities who steals Hoke's badge and gun (even his dentures) and goes on a crime spree around Miami impersonating a policeman.

George Armitage's 1990 adaptation of the novel was produced by Fred Ward who also starred as Hoke after relinquishing the role of Junior to Alec Baldwin. The fact that we never got more Ward as Hoke movies is too bad, but the fact that we did get a tonally amazing little film with a scene-stealing, star-making turn from Baldwin is perfect. 

Freddie stole the story from Hoke, and Baldwin stole the role from Ward, but Jennifer Jason Leigh stole my heart.

She plays Susie, a call girl and student - half-worldly, half naive - who falls into a relationship with Junior who she's not sure she if she loves, but he's sweet to her.

He's a shit, really, but he can be sweet in his way. That sweetness is important to the audience's affection for him. Junior is a scam artist and violent psycho whose fortunes are amusing to track as they rise and fall by balls and luck, but without that sweet side that only Susie brings out, he'd be only be entertaining for a little while instead of memorable for decades.

Of course the same sweetness that makes him lovable, makes him vulnerable. Without it he'd never have kept Susie for as long as he did, but he may not have lost her either. When Hoke tells Susie the truth about Junior it sounds unbelievable to her. Junior told Susie he was legitimate and the cop is trying to convince her that Junior is a dangerously violent criminal...

That would mean Junior had been lying to her. It would hurt, but he could be a liar. What is definitely true is that Junior is sweet and would never hurt her feelings. So she conducts a test to determine the truth about Junior. She deliberately fucks up a pie she's making for him.

When Junior comes home from a hard day at work she serves him dinner. That's their routine and it gives them both pleasure. He makes the money, she makes the home (Corny? Sure, but it's a blissful symbiosis for a little while). When Junior bites into the bad pie we can see how awful it tastes. His eyes are watering and he chokes trying to answer her when she asks if he likes it.

Of course he does. He tells her she's a great cook and she's made just about the best pie he's ever had in his life.

She's proved that he's a liar. She's also proved that his love is genuine. The pain and pleasure of the dual discovery both reside in Susie's eyes while she stands behind him, maybe the only man she'll ever love like this, while the pain and pleasure of choking down that awful pie and making his lady feel good about herself reside in his.

In a movie full of outrageous scenes that make me laugh and cringe, it's this perfect little romantic atomic sourball of an exchange that's my favorite and really makes the movie stick.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

My Felonious Valentine: Scott Adlerberg on Something Wild

Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild is a Valentine’s Day movie for those who know that romance is built on deception. But by deception, I don’t mean the manipulative kind, where one person lies to another with selfish or malicious intent. Deception in Something Wild comes with a kind of charm and springs from a need inside a person to connect, or, if not to connect, at least to have fun. What does it mean to be “oneself”? And who says you can’t make up your persona and seek something like romance that way? People do it all the time. Both Melanie Griffith’s character and Jeff Daniel’s character are inveterate tale tellers, self-mythologizers, though the extent to which neither is what they first present themselves to be comes to light only gradually. Fast-paced as it is, structured for continual forward movement, Something Wild nevertheless has a story that truly unfolds. When people talk about the great film scripts, this is one that should be mentioned. Kudos to E. Max Frye. New revelations about the characters occur nearly every step of the film’s 113-minute way, but what’s great and refreshing about the discoveries is that nothing you find out about Lulu/Audrey (Griffith) or Charles (Daniels) makes you like them any less. In fact, just the opposite happens. The more the story reveals about them, showing you how they’ve lied to each other, the more your liking for them grows and the harder you root for them to come out okay and be together at the end.

Lulu reads into Charles right away. When he pockets his lunch check and walks out of the Greenwich Village café without paying, she sees that underneath his three-piece suit and straight-laced demeanor lies the heart of a rebel. Or at least, someone with a streak of non-conformity in his soul. The escapades, including sex, that she leads him on have a degree of danger to them, but it doesn’t take long for Charles to go with the wild flow. And for the most part, despite the danger that comes with drinking while driving, crashing her convertible, and fleeing from a restaurant without paying, Charles warms to Lulu and finds himself having an exhilarating time. The mood between the two here is screwball, and we’re not talking about love yet, just guilt-free abandon. Charles believes what Lulu tells him about herself (she alludes to being divorced), and Lulu believes what Charles says about himself, namely, that he has a wife and kids. She gets the excitement of pulling a family man away from his boring routine; he ostensibly will have a weekend to remember before he returns to his life in the Long Island burbs. Lulu is so flamboyant and theatrical that we know she could be something of a put-on, but it does come as a jolt to see that Charles is playing pretend himself. When he claims to be on the phone with his wife, he is actually speaking to a dial tone.

It’s Lulu, of the pair, who unpeels a layer of herself first. But when Charles finds out that she’s blonde and not a brunette and comes from an ordinary small-town house and has a plain straightforward mother called Peaches, he doesn’t think any less of her. Nor is he upset to hear that her real name is Audrey. He likes her, and her sudden switch from freewheeling woman to sweet and loving daughter who appears before him in something as unglamorous as face cream doesn’t faze him at all. He plays along when Audrey tells her mother that she and Charles are married and have all sorts of future plans. That he can lie so casually reminds us that he may not have told Audrey the complete truth about himself, but he comes clean to the mother when Peaches, knowing her daughter cold, asks him about his wife as the two of them are washing and drying dishes together.

Peaches asks, “You’ve got a real wife somewhere, don’t you, Charlie?’

Charles says, “That’s a little complicated, Peaches,” and when she asks him whether he loves her daughter, Charles says what sounds utterly sensible: “I just met her recently. It’s kind of hard to…”
Peaches gives him sounds advice: “You take care then.  She’s got some strange notions about life.”
He says that he knows.

Next stop, as Charlie discovers, is Audrey’s 10-year high school reunion. By now he’s fully in the swing of things and even asks Audrey who he’s supposed to be. The two are having a ball together, and acting out parts while they have their fun is taken for granted.

The prom is where the audience sees that Charles may indeed be falling in love with Audrey. As the reunion band plays and he and Audrey dance with ease and silliness and humor, you see a genuine connection developing. He has an uncomfortable conversation with a woman at the bar but then rushes back to Audrey and soon they embrace with a natural and totally romantic kiss. They’ve reached a high point and seem well on their way to good things. And yet…and yet…darkness is  lurking near them. They just don’t know it. Neither, on first viewing, does the audience. But just like in life, an unforeseen darkness is close to them, and in one of the great tonal shifts in movie history, that darkness begins to intrude on their lives the instant the lights on the dance floor dim and their big kiss ends and the band – the real band The Feelies – begins to play the opening bars to Loveless Love.

Hi, baby. Surprise.

Enter Ray.


Before I continue, let me take a quick detour here into talking about the first time I saw Something Wild. It was in 1986, when the movie had just opened, and in mid-town Manhattan a friend and I went to see Sid and Nancy, itself a film one could discuss as a story about unconventional romance.  Anyway, I loved Sid and Nancy, and that’s the first time I saw Gary Oldman. So I came away from that film feeling I’d seen somebody new and great. (Which is not to forget Chloe Webb, who is equally remarkable in the film).

My friend and I, both working part time and with nothing to get up for early the next day, decided on the spur of the moment, we’d go see a second film that night, which was Something Wild. It had gotten good reviews, looked like it should be fun, and we knew the main people involved from previous films: Griffith, Daniels, and Jonathan Demme. We had high expectations with that group. Why not?  What we did not expect was the guy who appears midway through the film and conducts himself with such authority and menace, an unknown named Ray Liotta. I clearly remember thinking, as it became apparent how strong an actor and presence he was, “Who in the hell is this guy and where oh where did they find him?” Amazing. If you come to Something Wild after having seen Liotta in Good Fellas or Narc or any of the other terrific performances he’s given, you’ll be familiar with his intensity and skill. But I do have to say that I’m glad I first encountered him in his first major acting role. It was a thrill, among my all-time “Who is this person?” movie moments.

Now back to the story, and Charles and Audrey’s endangered romance.


What’s ironic about Ray is that he does less lying about himself than either Audrey or Charles do.  Audrey knows who and what he is at once, and after a short time, so does Charles. When someone robs a convenience store in front of you and makes it clear he’s a guy with a criminal record who’s been in jail, you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Turns out Ray is Audrey’s husband, and though she wants no part of him, he has no intention of leaving her so she can get on with her life.  Though he’s been in jail for five years, he sees himself picking up with her just where they left off.

Would you call what he feels for her love? Maybe you’d call it loveless love, like the title of the song that was played. What’s clear is that his feelings for Audrey present a contrast to how Charles relates to her. Charles followed her lead in most things; Ray wants to dominate and control her. Ray wants to see how she’ll look in a new bathing suit, and when she tries to escape from him by sprinting across a motel lawn, he chases her down, picks her up, and throws her in the motel pool. His emotion for her definitely reeks of what we’d now call toxic masculinity. At the same time, he’s not stupid. Through Ray’s prodding, Charles discloses to Ray and Audrey what Ray has already managed to learn about Charles’ marriage – that it is over and Charles’ wife left him several months ago. This shocks and angers Audrey. Despite the tale spinning she did herself, she doesn’t like to be on the receiving end of deception. She’s unhappy and Charles is unhappy as well. Because of their mutual deceptions, their relationship, so promising earlier in the night, has reached a nadir. And it’s Ray alone who appreciates the irony. As he says, “Whooeee. Hahahahaha. Charlie, this is Audrey. Audrey, this is Charlie.  Hahahahaha.  Who’s shittin’ who here? Unbelievable.

On their earlier road trip, when they were having a blast, Charlie had said something to Audrey that you might not have taken seriously. It’s a line he said about himself that sounded like a guy trying to impress a woman. Charles said that he may look straight but that what’s inside is what counts and that deep down, he has got what it takes. His nose broken by Ray, told to “get the fuck out” by Ray, you’d think that Charlie would slink back to Long Island and his safe life and Wall Street job. But he does not. Now that everyone has their cards on the table, he regroups and we see the “real” Charles, a gutsy and clever guy who will put himself at risk to get Audrey back. Charles does have what it takes. Demme gives us suspense and tension instead of the film’s first half of comedy, and love has to prove itself through an ordeal that leads to violence and death. Even then, it’s not easy for Audrey and Charles to connect; death means the involvement of law enforcement. It appears that Charles may never see Audrey again, but we know the impact she’s made on his life because he quits his job and all the stultification it represents. We know he loves her because he tries to track her down by visiting the building her apartment is in. She has left. A woman in the street he thinks is Audrey is not Audrey. Maybe all the deceptions he and Audrey worked on each other, maybe the nightmare that developed when Ray entered the picture, has made romance between Charles and Audrey impossible. But of course, in the end, Something Wild is a comedy, in the classical sense, and that means a happy ending.

Their meeting that concludes the film, at the same café where they first met, inverts the opening scene. This time, Charles pays his check, but when he goes outside, a waitress from the café tells him he did not pay. Charles is confused, but Audrey, now appearing, has played a trick on him yet again, not unlike how she fooled him the first time they met. But if ever someone was happy to be on the receiving end of a joke, it’s Charles. Not only will he accept her offer for a ride, he’ll open the door to the odd new car she has, hold it open for her till she gets in, and gladly take the wheel himself. Charles knows who Audrey is and vice versa, and finally they are ready to be with each other without playing self-invented roles.

Where are they going, though, in that strange vehicle? We don’t know and neither do they. They have no plans. No movie like this, with a romance like this, could end on a note of certainty. They have understanding between them, and affection, and without doubt they’ll be adventures to come.

What could be more romantic than that?

Scott Adlerberg lives in Brooklyn. He is the author of Spiders and Flies, Jungle Horses, Graveyard Love and Jack Waters. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Lithub and Criminal Element, and each summer he co-hosts the Word for Word Reel Talks film commentary series in Manhattan. Follow him on Twitter @ScottAdlerberg

Monday, February 10, 2020

My Felonious Valentine: Romeo is Bleeding

I've talked a few times about my affection for Peter Medak and Hilary Henkin's Romeo is Bleeding and pretty much every time out I mention that I think I'd love the film even more if Gary Oldman's voiceover were cut out. It's not an incessant use of v.o. but it's most noticeable in the scene that bookends the film, and I'd like to make very clear that that particular scene really is a big part of why the movie sticks with me.

The film opens and closes with Oldman behind the counter of an empty diner in the desert. He's the only person there - the apparent owner/operator, making coffee for no one, wearing a greasy apron and smoking a limp cigarette while poring over an old book of photographs, looking up hopefully every time the wind shakes the screen door making it sound like he's got a customer...

.........SPOILERS FOLLOW.........

After all the graft and cheating and betrayal, when the lust has cooled and the blood has curdled and all that's left is our Romeo, (Oldman's Jack) having escaped the mob by double crossing Roy Scheider, escaped justice by murdering Lena Olin and corrupting his fellow cops who cover up his crimes for him. He even gets all of that dirty money he's been making for years out of the hole in the ground where's he's been stashing it, but it's not a happy ending because he couldn't save his marriage.

You wouldn't think that his marriage meant much to him the way he treats his wife (Annabella Sciorra) throughout the movie. Hell, you wouldn't think his wife meant much to the movie which spends more time with his mistress (Juliette Lewis), his kinky thrill-killer-fuck-buddy (Olin) and his various dirty dealings with Michael Wincott

Basically he treats her like shit. By constantly cheating on her, by putting her in danger unawares from both the mob and the long arm of the law - he's made her an unwitting accomplice and his behavior puts her in constant danger of having her whole life turned upside down. 

He says he loves her, but... when she pulls a gun on him he thinks she's about to shoot him. She's only teasing, but she had him (and us) going. We all know he'd have it coming if she shot him.

On the other hand nobody casts Annabella Sciorra for any part that is inconsequential. We love her (I mean, c'mon) and we can't understand why doesn't seem to. Not enough to stay faithful. Not enough to be honest. Not even enough to make plans for the future with...


When everything inevitably goes to shit and he knows there's a good chance he'll end up dead or in prison in the next few hours he comes clean-ish and his actions demonstrate some love for her. He digs up all that money he's been stashing, piles it in a suitcase and sends her out the door with a feverish plan... 

Take this money and meet me at the Holiday Diner somewhere in the dusty southwest. I will look for you there on May first. If I haven't got my affairs settled by then, I'll be there December first. Keep looking for me May first and December first. May first.... December first.

What is this diner? Some place from their past? Somewhere they've talked about? Some place of unspoken significance between them? Regardless, it's where Jack spends the rest of his life demonstrating his love. Apparently he buys the place and never leaves. He spends the rest of eternity waiting for her, slinging hash in hell, finally staying put and remaining faithful. 

A more cynical viewer might think it's all about the money for him, but if it were all about the money he never would have sent it with her in the first place. He'd just have left it hidden in the ground and dug it up later if he survived. No, it's love that keeps him waiting. It's for love that he keeps paying his eternal greasy spooned penance. And it's love that keeps him hopeful and breaks his heart every six months...

May first, December first.
May first... December first.
May... first
Remember remember the first of December... 
May-be she'll show.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

My Felonious Valentine: Andrew Nette on Night Moves

There’s not a lot of romance in Arthur Penn’s existentially bleak 1975 neo-noir, Nightmoves.

The film stars Gene Hackman, who recently turned 90, as Harry Moseby, a confused, disillusioned, deeply insecure, ex-professional footballer turned bottom feeding Los Angeles private investigator.

As much to take his mind of his suspicions that his wife, Ellen (Susan Clark), is having an affair (she is), as the need to turn a dollar, Harry takes the job of finding the 16-year old tearaway daughter, Delly (a very young Melanie Griffiths in what was her first major screen role), of a washed up Hollywood star (Janet Ward).

Like any good PI movie, the apparent simplicity of Harry’s case is in inverse proportion to what is actually going on, which is eventually revealed to involve a racket smuggling precious Mexican antiquities into the United States.

There’s sex, a bit of lust (not all of it legal), a reasonable amount of violence, and a lot of betrayal. In fact, thinking about it, betrayal is probably the film’s main theme: Harry being set up at the beginning of the film by one of his best friends (although we don’t know this then); Ellen’s affair with an art deal called Marty Heller (a small but wonderful turn by veteran US character actor, Harris Yulin); the way that Delly is betrayed by virtually every adult she meets.

And, if you want to get really existential, one could add the betrayal of the 1960s, as the promise of the counter culture and widespread social transformation gave way in the 1970s to the intense disillusionment and ennui resulting from the assassinations of various progressive political figures, Watergate, and the carnage in Vietnam. And as the microcosm of this larger social shift, the way Harry was betrayed himself by pissing away all the potential in his early his life.

But the film has one very romantic scene.

It comes after Harry has got back to Los Angeles from the Florida Keys, where he found Delly and had a one-night stand of his own with a woman named Paula (Jennifer Warren). He’s returned the runaway to her mother and is determined to quite the PI game.

Ellen stumbles in on him packing up his office. She’s always wanted him to change professions but doesn’t know what to say to him now it seems like he has finally pulled the plug. After a few attempts at conversation they kiss and go to bed.

The next scene boasts what is, as far as I am aware, the only post coital fondue scene in a big screen movie (although I am sure a comprehensive trawl through European cinema from around the same period would unearth a few more examples). Harry is spearing something onto a skewer. Ellen is laying against the bed head drinking a glass of wine.

You’re different,’ she says.

‘Am I, how?'

‘You seem remote.’

‘No, just thinking about things.’

He tells he about the time he went to track down his father, who had run off when he was young. It is obviously an important part of his identity, not least because it involved him successfully using his then nascent PI skills to locate the old man in a rooming house in Baltimore.

But rather than confronting his father, as has been the case with the version of the story he has always told in the past, he watched the lonely old man sit on a park bench but couldn’t bring himself to talk to him.

Ellen is surprised that he has never told her the real story, but it is clear that his honesty, probably rare for Harry, has brought them closer together, and made both of them determined to give the relationship another shot.

Whether they are successful or not we don’t know because very soon after, harry learns that Delly has been killed in a car crash and the nagging suspicions he has about the case start to come into focus and he decides he has to go back to Florida.

Andrew Nette is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, reviewer and pulp scholar. He is the author of two novels, Ghost Money, a crime story set in Cambodia in the mid-nineties, and Gunshine State, and co-editor of Hard Labour, an anthology of Australian short crime fiction, and LEE, an anthology of fiction inspired by American cinema icon, Lee Marvin. He is co-editor of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980, and Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980, both published by PM Press. He is working on a third volume, on radical science fiction from 1950 to 1980. He has also written a monograph about Norman Jewison’s 1975 dystopian classic, Rollerball, released by independent UK film and media studies publisher, Auteur, in 2018.